Random Quote #84 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778


If a clock is not made to tell the hour, I will then admit that final
causes are chimeras; and I shall consider it quite right for people to
call me "_cause-finalier_," that is--an imbecile.

All the pieces of the machine of this world seem, however, made for each
other. A few philosophers affect to mock at the final causes rejected by
Epicurus and Lucretius. It is, it seems to me, at Epicurus and Lucretius
rather that they should mock. They tell you that the eye is not made for
seeing, but that man has availed himself of it for this purpose when he
perceived that eyes could be so used. According to them, the mouth is
not made for speaking, for eating, the stomach for digesting, the heart
for receiving the blood from the veins and for dispatching it through
the arteries, the feet for walking, the ears for hearing. These persons
avow nevertheless that tailors make them coats to clothe them, and
masons houses to lodge them, and they dare deny to nature, to the great
Being, to the universal Intelligence, what they accord to the least of
their workmen.

Of course one must not make an abuse of final causes; we have remarked
that in vain Mr. Prieur, in "The Spectacle of Nature," maintains that
the tides are given to the ocean so that vessels may enter port more
easily, and to stop the water of the sea from putrefying. In vain would
he say that legs are made to be booted, and the nose to wear spectacles.

In order that one may be certain of the true end for which a cause
functions, it is essential that that effect shall exist at all times
and in all places. There were not ships at all times and on all the
seas; hence one cannot say that the ocean was made for the ships. One
feels how ridiculous it would be to maintain that nature had worked from
all time in order to adjust herself to the inventions of our arbitrary
arts, which appeared so late; but it is quite evident that if noses were
not made for spectacles, they were for smelling, and that there have
been noses ever since there have been men. Similarly, hands not having
been given on behalf of glove-makers, they are visibly destined for all
the purposes which the metacarpal bones and the phalanges and the
circular muscle of the wrist may procure for us.

Cicero, who doubted everything, did not, however, doubt final causes.

It seems especially difficult for the organs of generation not to be
destined to perpetuate the species. This mechanism is very admirable,
but the sensation which nature has joined to this mechanism is still
more admirable. Epicurus had to avow that pleasure is divine; and that
this pleasure is a final cause, by which are ceaselessly produced
sentient beings who have not been able to give themselves sensation.

This Epicurus was a great man for his time; he saw what Descartes
denied, what Gassendi affirmed, what Newton demonstrated, that there is
no movement without space. He conceived the necessity of atoms to serve
as constituent parts of invariable species. Those are exceedingly
philosophical ideas. Nothing was especially more worthy of respect than
the moral system of the true Epicureans; it consisted in the removal to
a distance of public matters incompatible with wisdom, and in
friendship, without which life is a burden. But as regards the rest of
Epicurus' physics, they do not appear any more admissible than
Descartes' channelled matter. It is, it seems to me, to stop one's eyes
and understanding to maintain that there is no design in nature; and if
there is design, there is an intelligent cause, there exists a God.

People present to us as objections the irregularities of the globe, the
volcanoes, the plains of shifting sands, a few small mountains destroyed
and others formed by earthquakes, etc. But from the fact that the naves
of the wheels of your coach have caught fire, does it ensue that your
coach was not made expressly to carry you from one place to another?

The chains of mountains which crown the two hemispheres, and more than
six hundred rivers which flow right to the sea from the feet of these
rocks; all the streams which come down from these same reservoirs, and
which swell the rivers, after fertilizing the country; the thousands of
fountains which start from the same source, and which water animal and
vegetable kind; all these things seem no more the effect of a fortuitous
cause and of a declension of atoms, than the retina which receives the
rays of light, the crystalline lens which refracts them, the incus, the
malleus, the stapes, the tympanic membrane of the ear, which receives
the sounds, the paths of the blood in our veins, the systole and
diastole of the heart, this pendulum of the machine which makes life.


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